What made you want to step up into the role as Managing Director?
Someone believed in me so I believed in myself. This was a new role for our business with real purpose. We were shaping our practice for the future and had a newly appointed Chair who I had worked with for many years. I knew the role would be a challenge and take me out of my comfort zone, but I believed in where we were heading and relished the opportunity. Our vision as a Board was to put in place a succession plan, to support the next generation of leaders to more forward, to re-shape our business so it was fit for the future. I had the respect of those around me, I trusted in my support networks and the idea of developing our future shape and structure really excited me.
How did you get to where you are now? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. In part that was because I had no careers advice and whilst I know things are slowly changing, it’s still the case in many schools today. It’s that memory that sticks with me and why I’m so keen to help raise awareness at the earliest age about the exciting roles and different pathways that exist within our profession and wider industry. For example there are still too many people who do not know you can train and qualify as an Architect now through an apprenticeship route. This opens up more opportunities for more people, particularly those who might never have imagined a role in architecture possible due to the financial commitment needed.
I left school with 6 O’Levels and 4 GCSEs. I started with HLM as a junior administrator. No-one had mentioned staying on in education. It was the first time I realised people went to University. The YTS scheme blended working at HLM with a training programme run by The Sheffield Chamber of Commerce (where I’m now President with a focus on developing skills – what goes around comes around!). I’ve had some amazing opportunities to progress my career at HLM Architects. From administrator to Word Processing Manager (I was the first person to use a word processor at HLM – it was typewriters before that!). I used this role to streamline what we did across our studios using new technology, before the introduction of CAD. I progressed to Office Manager for the Sheffield studio, to Corporate Administration Manager for the whole practice. I did go back to study at night school in my late 20s and qualified as a Chartered Company Secretary in 2000. That exposed me to the Board and to all those important things around corporate governance. I was appointed a Director in 2002, became an equal Shareholder in 2004 and Managing Director in 2017 as we transitioned to a new Board structure.
Develop a support network around you; internal, external, professional, personal, find a number of allies and cheerleaders.”
Hi Ladies, my name is Karen Mosley, I’m 54 years old and I’m a Managing Director at HLM Architects in Sheffield.
I joined HLM when I was 17 on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS), similar to an apprenticeship. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to progress at HLM, so I'm passionate about lifelong learning. My role spans far and wide across many aspects of our business as Managing Director, but my heart centres around people development and inclusivity; creating a great place to work and improving social mobility. I lead on our two strategic objectives; Employer of Choice and Social Value. I’m motivated by seeing the success of others, helping break down barriers so everyone can be the best they can be. That led me to set up the HLM Academy, a blended learning framework to support everyone to reach their full potential. In December 2020 I co-led our transition into an Employee Ownership Trust so all of our shares are now held in trust for the benefit of our employees.
What does your Managing Director role actually involve?
My role is incredibly varied. Ultimately it’s about keeping us all focussed on our strategic plans and making sure we’ve got the right resources and skills as a Board to do that. I work hand in glove with our Chair and Finance Director, and closely with all of our Directors. We have very different but complementary skill sets and I do my best to keep us all moving forward together collectively and effectively. Sometimes it’s like herding cats!, but I love the challenge. I didn’t set out with this role in mind. It’s the culmination of working through various different positions within our practice, gathering up experience and skills and the appreciation of doing what I enjoy.
What is it like being a woman in a Senior position and how does it feel?
I’m fortunate as I don’t often need to think about myself in terms of my gender. I’ve had huge support from many people including men, both within HLM and across our wider profession. I’m not blind however to the fact that it’s still a battle for many women to not only rise up through an organisation but also to be respected in the most basic of ways. It horrifies me to hear some of the experiences and behaviours that women are still exposed to across our industry. That must change, but it won’t happen overnight. So I see an important part of my role, here and now, and while ever I can, to speak out and speak up where I see people being held back. To raise awareness and re-educate where needed, build bridges to break down barriers and be part of an active support network for others.
As someone in your role, how do you deal with challenges?
I lean into the wonderful support around me. It’s important that you have people you can trust; a confidante, a critical friend, a colleague, a mate. I used to be a huge worrier, questioning my decisions and actions. What if I’d said this? or, What if I’d done that a different way? Someone introduced me early on to the Circle of Control concept. Overnight it made me realise I needed to stop spending time on things where I had no influence, particularly about things in the past, and to focus on what I could control or change in the future. It’s so important to keep things in perspective and to step back from a challenging situation for a period of time so you can refocus with a fresh pair of eyes, rather than getting sucked in and suffocating.
The fact that no two days are the same keeps me switched on and motivated. Someone asked recently why I’d stayed with HLM for so long, particularly now jobs aren’t often seen to be for life. I firmly believe you don’t need to move out to move on. Finding an environment where you’re encouraged every day to keep learning, trying new things without fear of failure, just means you don’t have chance to stagnate.
Despite any challenges you may face, what’s the best thing you like about your role?
Can I only choose one. Eeek! People first definitely. I’m surrounded by such inspirational people who care about the impact they have on others, how they interact with colleagues at work, how they design places and spaces to improve people’s lives. I’m not an Architect, but I love bringing the skills I have into the mix, to drive forward our ambition and support others around me to succeed.
What advice would you give a young woman thinking about a career in your role?
Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Don’t be anyone else other than you. Lean in and develop a support network around you; internal, external, professional, personal, find a number of allies and cheerleaders. Listen, share and offer reciprocal support, and opportunities will present themselves to explore.
Don’t expect others to always notice your achievements – be proactive, let people know what you’re working on, what you’ve achieved. Don’t overinvest in absolute perfection, it’s not always needed. Don’t get taken over by the disease to please either; create boundaries so you’re not distracted, people can drain your time.
Eat properly, get enough sleep and keep in touch with your friends. And ask for feedback all the time. You deserve it.
Outside of your role, do you have a passion project?
I love connecting dots. As President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce I’m focussing on skills. Young People’s futures are too often shaped by their background rather than their hard work and determination. I’m focussed on helping the Chamber to unlock the untapped potential in our communities. To make it easier for younger people in Sheffield to follow their dreams and find a job or start a business that changes their lives. Achieving that potential starts and ends by giving young people the skills and confidence they need to be successful. There are various initiatives which I’m spotlighting including the See it Be it campaign in secondary schools and the Built Environment Project in a Box with Sheffield Childrens’ University in primary schools.